At school, do people frequently mistake the janitor for the principal? In a doctor’s office, is the secretary frequently mistaken for the doctor? At the police station, is the chief of police frequently mistaken for the person in cells? How do you tell who is who when they don’t have a name tag? It’s the way they look, talk, move, and act. In the workplace, court, school, social situations, everywhere, first impressions are important.
When we see a person for the first time, we look at them to find out what kind of person they are and what they do. When we want to know if someone has changed, we look to see what has changed about them: appearance, composure, facial expression, voice, attitude, behavior or clothes. How will you and other people know you have changed and are no longer using drugs or alcohol?
Your appearance can have a positive or negative effect on your own attitude toward yourself, toward relapse prevention, and your new lifestyle. Check your appearance; eyes, smile and posture. Do you look and move like you have a positive attitude and are trustworthy, confidant, kind, successful? Do you look like you care about yourself?
For relapse prevention, you will need to develop your communication skills. You will need to work to ensure that what you say is well thought out, rational, considerate, and appropriate to the setting. But the greatest element of communication is how you say your message. We speak with words and body language. Every time we talk, our body gives additional meaning to our words (Wainwright, 1999). You can improve your communication by effectively using body language and ending old habits that no longer match who you want to be and what you want to project to others and yourself. You may no longer want to project the tough guy image or the sexual image.
Facial expression reveals emotion, whether you’re sad, bored or happy. It reveals attitudes towards others, whether you’re angry or just plain disinterested in a conversation. We make personality and other judgments about people, based on what we think we see in their faces. Simply smiling can change your own outlook and increase your attractiveness to others. Frowning has the reverse effect. A smile can be used to reduce tension and improve the emotional state of people who have depression or anxiety (Wainwright, 1999).
Changing posture is part of changing attitudes and establishing positive relationships. More erect body posture signals a feeling of hopefulness, confidence or dominance. Stooping postures are associated with lack of interest, depression or submissiveness (Wainwright, 1999). Does changing your body posture really change the way you feel? Yes, it does. Here’s how you can test it:
• Straighten up in your chair, put your shoulders back.
• Put your hands in front of you, palms up, feet uncrossed, and flat on the floor.
• Hold your head up.
• Now, breathe deeply and slowly and smile.
Okay, what are you feeling now? What would someone think if they walked in right now and looked at you? They would think you were interested and positive.
Body size, shape and clothes influence how people perceive us and how much attention they pay to us. We can’t give a positive impression of ourselves to others if our clothes don’t send a positive message (Wainwright, 1999). Take a few minutes and write down two or three positive messages that you want to send to yourself and others by the way you dress.
Now write down one or two simple ways you can change your clothing or appearance to more clearly send a positive message.
If you want to improve or change your image, start by looking at your reflection in a mirror and by having someone give you feedback. Actions to create a new you can include changing your hairstyle, changing your clothes, and getting in good physical shape. Pay more attention to your face and skincare. Observe others and how their clothes and physique are sending messages and learn from their successes. Avoid using extremes: the heavy sexual message, the tough guy message, the user message or the drug dealer message. How did you dress when you were drinking and using? What messages were you sending then? Decide on the changes you want and set about making them in an organized and determined manner.
In conversation, only 7% of the impact is from what you say, 93% of the impact is nonverbal (Wainwright, 1999). So, give lots of eye contact, keep an interested facial expression and smile a lot. Dress to send positive messages, keep healthy, and in good shape physically. Take the time to work on your body language and you will send clear, positive messages to others and to yourself that you are on the road to success. Take the time to learn more by reading books such as “Body Language” by Gordon R. Wainwright. A little extra knowledge can go a long way to learning how to change how you feel about yourself and how others see you.